Once again published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm is JK Rowling’s second crime novel featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike, and picks up several months after the events of The Cuckoo’s Calling. After an unwanted moment in the spotlight for his work on the Lula Landry case, Strike finds things getting back to normal when he takes on a case from Leonora Quine, whose husband Owen, an author of dubious taste and talent, has gone missing. As he begins his investigation it quickly becomes clear that there is more to Owen’s story than a man hiding away from his wife, with the inflammatory manuscript for his latest book having been circulated amongst his publishers and peers just before his disappearance.
After exploring the modern obsession with celebrity culture in The Cuckoo’s Calling, here Rowling turns her attention to the murky, tangled world of publishing, creating a largely noxious cast of editors, publishers, writers and literary groupies whose worlds intersected with Owen Quine’s. As Strike digs deeper into this bizarre network of strange personalities he has to try and understand why Quine might have been quite so poisonous in his character depictions and how they affect those depicted, and what these portrayals might have motivated each person to have done. With the suspects having at times quite wildly different views on Quine and the book itself, it can all get a bit complicated for the reader, never mind Strike, but for the most part it’s a clever, interesting setup with some enjoyably grotesque characters.
The plotting is as tight and twisty as might be expected, once again following a tried and tested route but with more than enough personality and invention to maintain the reader’s interest and keep them hungry to turn each page. As for Strike, it’s a pleasure to read more of him in action, along with his secretary Robin and her occasionally fractious relationship with her fiancee. There obviously isn’t the enjoyable sense of discovery regarding Strike and Robin that the first book had, but even so it’s great to come back to these characters and see them develop as the book goes on, Rowling expanding upon the unusual working relationship they have together and bringing a little more of Strike’s extended family into view.
If there was any doubt remaining about Rowling’s ability to turn her hand to crime writing as deftly as fantasy, it’s surely been dispelled by this book, another compulsive, compelling story that’s no easier to put down than the Harry Potter books were. While perhaps a little less gripping at the outset than its predecessor, once it gets going this adds an extra layer of (perhaps unexpected) darkness and demonstrates Rowling’s skill with both plot and character.